Western Screech Owl

Western Screech Owl in a ponderosa pine

The Western Screech Owl (Megascops kennicottii) is a small, grey-brown owl with streaked plumage and "ear tufts". The taxonomy of the Western Screech Owl is complex and still unsolidified, ranging between 2 and 18 subspecies with 2-3 residing within Canada. The two subspecies recognised by both BC and COSEWIC are M. k. kennicottii and M. k. macfarlanei. The M. k. macfarlanei subspecies is an interior subspecies and is considered "Endangered" by COSEWIC and Red listed by the Province of BC. The M. k. kennicottii subspecies is coastal and is ranked "Special Concern" by COSEWIC and Blue listed by the Province of BC. Due to difficulties in observing this nocturnal species—and the lack of scientific studies—it is difficult to estimate the population within Canada. Best guesses place 1,000-2,000 within Canada; it is estimated that the number of M. k. macfarlanei residing within BC is in low hundreds.


Biodiversity Interactive Map - Western Screech Owl Observations


The Western Screech Owl can be found in western regions ranging from as far north as the Alaskan Panhandle, Western Canada, Mainland United States, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and as far south as Costa Rica. In Canada, British Columbia contains the only regions with Western Screech Owl. M. k. kennicottii resides along the cost of BC (excluding Haida Gwaii) and M. k. macfarlanei is found in the southern interior, mostly within the Okanagan Valley. The ranges of the two subspecies of Western Screech Owl do not overlap therefore misidentification is rare.


Observations of the Western Screech Owl have been made in many different environments (generally in a riparian zone) including forests, semi-open woodlands, scrubland, arroyos, mature mesquite, cactus deserts, and treed suburban & urban areas.

Within BC the owl can be found primarily in low to mid elevation treed environments, however forest type and proportion of coniferous to deciduous trees may vary. The subspecies local to the Kootenays, M. k. kennicotti, is most often observed in low elevation riparian areas, favouring areas with prominent Black Cottonwood. In the Okanagan this species has been observed breeding primarily in poorly drained sites, such as standing water and marsh habitats.


There is sparse information on the Western Screech Owl as it is poorly studied. Aspects of died and environmental needs are known, but little else. It is a nocturnal species, foraging and calling at night. The species is essentially non-migratory in British Columbia, with pairs calling and maintaining a territory throughout the year.

It is generally accepted that the Western Screech Owl is monogamous, with pair formation occurring in January or February. Most birds are thought to begin breeding as early as one year of age, however the average age is unknown. Eggs have been recorded being laid between March and May with young in nests between April and August. The Western Screech Owl rears one brood per year, laying an average of 3-4 eggs but incidents of between 2 and 7 have been recorded. Nests are generally found in natural tree cavities or provided nest boxes with little to no nesting material. When found in natural tree cavities the DBH (diameter at breast height) is 25cm or greater.

Western Screech Owls have been recorded to live as long as 13 years, however best estimates of average life span from Idaho indicate an average of 1.73 and 1.83 for males and females respectively.

Owls observed in studies have shown a highly varied diet. They have been recorded eating small mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and a wide variety of insects and invertebrates. In turn, the Western Screech Owl is the prey of Great-horned Owls, Spotted Owls, Barred Owls and Raccoons.

Listing and Date

M. k. kennicottii M. k. macfarlanei
Listing Date Listing Date
B.C. List Blue Red
COSEWIC Special Concern 2002 Endangered 2002
SARA Special Concern 2003 Endangered 2005

Threats to Species

  • Limited availability of natural nesting sites due to deforestation practices and wildfires.
  • Habitat loss due to human expansion, riparian zones are being developed and utilised for housing and agriculture.
  • Barred Owl predation: As this is a relatively new species to the region, it may be causing a gradual decrease in population. However, this is debatable as there have been few if any scientific studies outside of the lower mainland and Vancouver Island.

Select Reports

To Be Filled

Full Report Listing (most recent on top)

    To Be Filled

For more information on this species, visit:
The Species at Risk Public Registry for M. k. kennicottii and M. k. macfarlanei or, The BC Species and Ecosystem Explorer where you should enter "Western Screech Owl" in the species Name field.




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